Phil Vettel, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, joined Tribune Company (at Suburban Trib) in 1979, and has been The Tribune’’s restaurant critic since 1989. He has a wife and two sons, one or more of whom often accompany Phil on his culinary adventures. He also makes a mean egg-salad sandwich.

Recent Articles
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    Phil Vettel reviews Honey’s

    CHICAGO, Ill. — I’m really going to miss Honey’s. Not that I expect anything but a long, successful life for the Market District newcomer, which opened in early June. It’s not them. It’s me. One of the very few disadvantages of being a restaurant critic is the inability to be anyone’s regular customer. After I visit a place a few times and write my review, it’s time to move on. So many new restaurants, so little time. (Feel sorry for […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Cantina 1910

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Less than a year old, Cantina 1910 has endured enough controversy for a 10-year veteran. The Andersonville restaurant opened in September and quickly attracted a swarm of negative attention from online citizens, who demonized the place for charging for chips and salsa (the housemade salsas more than justify the tariff) and recoiling at some of the less-familiar dishes. It must be fun to be called “inauthentic” by people ill-equipped to do so. It got so crazy a backlash, […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Alinea

    CHICAGO, Ill. — ‘Do any of us,” muses chef Grant Achatz, “want to have a five-hour meal anymore?” Coming from any other chef in Chicago, that remark might sound wise, or possibly envious. But from Achatz, who set the culinary world ablaze with his 30-course, assumptions-shattering menus at Alinea, it smacks of self-blasphemy. For more than 10 years, Alinea’s scarcity of available bookings proved that, yes, hundreds of dining enthusiasts wanted a five-hour meal, at least from Achatz. It is […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Ocean Cut

    CHICAGO, Ill. — When David Flom and Matt Moore opened C Chicago last year, they envisioned a fin-and-scales version of their exemplary steakhouse, Chicago Cut. C Chicago featured painstakingly sourced protein in the form of whole fish, priced by the pound; customers proved resistant to the notion of 2-pound fish at $45 per. In May, the owners changed the name to Ocean Cut (neatly referencing its sister property), brought aboard the well-traveled chef Dirk Flanigan (who put The Gage and […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Oriole

    CHICAGO — It usually takes time for a restaurant to reach the four-star level, and usually it should. A four-star designation denotes not only superlative food and service, but the confidence (mine) that this excellence is sustainable. That sense of permanence isn’t often apparent in a new restaurant, so I tend to take a cautious approach before hanging four stars on a chef. I’ve overcome my hesitation, awarding out-of-the-gate four-star ratings, to exactly five restaurants: Trio, when it opened with […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Leña Brava

    CHICAGO, Ill. — E Every time I visit a Rick Bayless restaurant, I learn something. That’s no idle statement when you’re talking about a guy who has been feeding Chicago for more than a quarter-century. First there was Frontera Grill, eschewing chips-and-salsa Mexican for serious Mexican cooking that took sopa Azteca and chile relleno to new heights. Then Topolobampo, demonstrating that fine-dining, regional Mexican cuisine was not only possible, but that there was also an eager market for that sort […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Saved by the Max

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Fans of the classic teen sitcom Saved by the Bell are flocking to Wicker Park to snag a table at a themed pop up restaurant called Saved by the Max. It’s dripping with 90’s nostalgia, and packed to the gills every night—but how’s the food? The team brought on a highly regarded Chicago chef to take over the menu, and put some new twists on familiar classics. Chicago Tribune Restaurant Critic Phil Vettel checked it out.

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    Phil Vettel reviews Roister

    CHICAGO, Ill. — If you can think of a pithy phrase that describes Roister, the month-old concept launched by the Alinea folks (Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas), I wish you’d pass it along. I got nothing. The name suggests noisy revelry, and that’s certainly appropriate. The long dining room places tables on either side of the open kitchen, which makes it noisy to begin with. But the music, an anything-goes playlist that was crowd-sourced from fan suggestions months before Roister’s debut, […]

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    Phil Vettel on Chicago’s steakhouse renaissance

    CHICAGO, Ill. — One of the reasons Chicago steakhouses are so popular, I believe, is that when you say “steakhouse,” there are no follow-up questions. You know what you’re getting: top-quality beef, and plenty of it, in doorstop-weight portions. Big cocktails, bigger desserts and a huge wine list heavy on marquee names. No-nonsense service that makes up in efficiency what it might lack in personality. An appetizer list starring shrimp cocktail, crabcakes and a wedge salad; side dishes of creamed […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Acadia

    CHICAGO, Ill. — “Oh, a secret!” exclaimed my cab driver, as we pulled up to a nondescript building in the South Loop. “What’s that, a bar?” asked the cabbie who picked me up several hours later, wondering what I’d been doing in there. True enough, Acadia, just south of 16th Street on Wabash Avenue, doesn’t present much to the outside world. From the street, it’s a drab little building on a very quiet stretch (at 10 p.m. that night, the […]